German Baumkuchen (Tree Cake)

I wanted to recreate this extraordinary gazillion-layer, apricot-laced, chocolate-glazed torte for my son’s birthday.  I made it in my single years, when I had a lot more time on my hands.   I remember it being divine. The flavors and textures in this cake take you to a heavenly place.  It’s a 30 layer “layer cake,” so it’s serious business.

Traditionally, the layers for this cylindrical cake would be made over a revolving spit.  The resulting cake resembles a tree.  There is a similar cake in the Polish culinary repetoire, called “Sekacz,” which I have yet to try.  In the home baker’s version of Baumkuchen (also called Baumtorte), you have to stand by your broiler for 2 hours or so.  But who’s counting?!

The recipe has quite a few steps, including preparing an almond-based batter and folding in the egg whites.

Then comes the hard part of standing by the broiler, broiling thin layers of batter.  Applying the batter was tricky.  Using a brush was not easy, so I ended up using a small off-set spatula.  Here I am almost at the end of broiler duty.

I also like to slather apricot jam in between the layers of the almond-based batter, though I do not believe this is traditionally done for this cake–especially if it’s being made on a rotating spit!  The apricot adds another flavor profile to the cake, so while perhaps not traditional, I’m going to stick to it.

I was first introduced to this cake by my ever patient and grand master baker mom.  In addition to the almond, apricot, and chocolate flavors, she also added some ground pistachios as a garnish. She made this cake for my birthday many, many years ago, and I am forever indebted to her for it.  I wanted to pass on this wonderful cake to my son for his birthday, so here we are, fast forward to the present day.

I left off the nut garnish, but it’s still a very special cake.

 

Be forewarned:  the cake basically takes an evening and part of the following day to complete, so careful planning is required.  It is all worth it.  I just need another excuse to make it again!

 

Print Recipe
German Baumkuchen (Tree Cake)
2017 HollyTrail.com (adapted from recipe in article, "Baumtorte" from Cuisine magazine, December 1981)
Course Dessert
Cuisine German
Servings
Ingredients
Cake
  • 3 cups apricot preserves (about three, 12 oz. jars)
  • 13 ounces almond paste
  • 6 tablespoons half and half cream
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 10 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup cake flour, sifted
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate Glaze
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, or pistachios (optional)
Course Dessert
Cuisine German
Servings
Ingredients
Cake
  • 3 cups apricot preserves (about three, 12 oz. jars)
  • 13 ounces almond paste
  • 6 tablespoons half and half cream
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 10 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup cake flour, sifted
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate Glaze
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, or pistachios (optional)
Instructions
Make the cake
  1. With the back of a large spoon, press apricot preserves through a sieve into a small bowl. Measure out one cup of the sieved preserves and refrigerate for glazing the cake later. Reserve remaining preserves.
  1. Break up almond paste with your fingers and place in a large mixing bowl. With an electric mixer, beat almond paste with half and half for about 4 minutes. Add butter and 1/2 cup sugar to the almond paste mixture and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in egg yolks, rum, vanilla, and lemon zest.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine sifted flour and cornstarch. At low speed, mix flour into almond paste/butter mixture until just combined.
  3. In a large, clean bowl, beat egg whites and salt at low speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 1/2 cup sugar until whites are stiff but not dry.
  4. Prepare oven: Make sure the rack is set in the oven so that the pan will be about one inch from the broiler. Turn on broiler.
  5. Carefully fold 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the batter, and then fold in the remaining egg whites. Drop about 1/4 cup of the batter into the cake pan and spread using a pastry brush. The layer will be very thin. Broil until lightly browned, about 3-8 minutes, depending on the broiler. Remove pan from oven and quickly brush another 1/4 cup of the batter over the broiled layer. Return the pan to the oven and broil until lightly browned.
  6. Remove cake pan again and brush a thin but generous layer of apricot preserves to within 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the edge of the pan. Then brush another 1/4 cup of the batter, being careful not to mix the apricot preserves into the batter. Return the pan to the oven and broil until lightly browned. The time it takes to brown each layer varies, so be vigilant to avoid over-browning the layers.
  7. Remove the cake pan and brush 1/4 cup of the batter onto the broiled layer and return to the oven. Broil until lightly browned. Remove from the oven.
  8. Repeat the previous 2 steps until all of the batter is used up, Make sure that the last layer is the batter layer. Approximate number of layers is 28-32.
  9. After the last batter layer has been broiled, remove pan from the oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature. Refrigerate in the pan overnight before glazing.
Make the Glazes and Assemble the Cake
  1. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and remove the sides of the pan. Invert the torte to remove the springform bottom and parchment paper and then invert cake back again onto wire rack.
  2. Heat the remaining 1 cup of apricot preserves in a small saucepan over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 225°F. Remove from heat. Spread the warm preserves evenly over the top and sides of the cake with a spatula. Let the cake stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before glazing the cake with the chocolate glaze.
  3. When the cake is ready for the chocolate glaze, in a saucepan over low to medium heat, combine butter, rum, corn syrup, and salt (if using) and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until completely melted. Cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Spread the glaze evenly over the top and sides of the cake, covering the apricot glaze. Let the glaze set for 15 minutes. If using nuts, press ground nuts with a metal spatula around the sides of the cake. Let set and then transfer to a serving platter. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

Before the cake is glazed, it is recommended to trim the sides of the cake just a bit.  If you trim it at an angle, it gives the cake a tree-like look.

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4 Comments

  1. I made one of these in the 1980’s for a German-themed party. It was incredibly delicious. The recipe came from Gourmet or Bon Apetit magazine. As I remember, it was 30 layers. It was memorable to say the least!I have a photo but do not see that I am able to leave it.

    1. Yes, that’s it! My mom found it in Cuisine magazine in the 80s, which is a magazine that is no longer around unfortunately. We loved it so much that we made it a bunch of times for birthdays and special occasions. I’m not sure how we had so much time back then, but those were sweet memories!–Ania

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